When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on June 18 that they were declaring “video game addiction” a mental health condition in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, Department of Writing chair David Leach felt compelled to respond.
Writing professor David Leach
“The announcement didn’t necessarily surprise me because there is a feeling in the public consciousness that video games are addictive and that kids spend too much time on them,” Leach told the Vancouver Sun in this June 21 interview. “My problem is when you label it addiction it conjures up visions of heroin and your 12-year-old kid living on the street and not talking to you anymore. It’s like talking about being addicted to movies when what you’re really talking about is being addicted to pornography.”
A journalist who is also an expert in gaming culture, Leach had just returned from Toronto where he’d organized two symposia on the social power of video games the week before the WHO news broke. He recently launched UVic’s fledgling Digital Storytelling & Social Simulation Lab to further these interests, he has also done a double-blind study about the use of gamification for education when he was director of UVic’s Technology & Society program.
The WHO felt labeling “gaming disorder” as its own unique addiction would allow governments, health care workers and families to be more aware of the risks and better prepared to identify and deal with them. But even though they admitted gaming disorder is rare — estimating three percent of all gamers (at most) are affected — Leach challenges this idea.
“Three per cent is a wild exaggeration,” he told the Sun, noting all the people in the world — including grown men and women — and all the platforms on which they play games. “That would be millions of people. It speaks to the lack of understanding of how predominant interactive games and media is. If you think of how many people play video games, that number must be much lower, something like 0.001 percent.”
According to the WHO, gaming disorder shares many symptoms with substance and gambling problems — which, says Leach, “feeds into media and parental concerns that already exist . . . it shouldn’t be disparaged as a gateway drug to addiction.”
Leach also spoke to CBC Radio’s On The Island on June 20, and was featured in this CHEK TV weekend news spotlight on June 25.
Leach recently taught the elective WRIT 324: Writing Interactive Narrative, which looked at the history of interactive media from which-way-books, to ZORK and VR Rollercoasters. It was also under his time as Technology & Society director that the popular History of Video Games & Interactive Media course was introduced. He was also the organizer of the Games Without Frontiers research forums, held during UVic’s Ideafest in 2013 and 2016, which examined the social power of video games.
“Video games have become both the mythology and a form of literacy for, I’d say, the last two generations,” Leach told the Times Colonist in this 2013 interview. “They experience the world through games; games are kind of their narrative expression.”
Leach still believes the variety and potential of video games and their technology need to be taken seriously, examined critically and understood in depth.
From embattled cities in Syria to intractable encounters in Israel, the writing of Deborah Campbell fuses journalism and travel writing with the kind of personal observations that can only come with being immersed in some of the most pressing international issues of our time.
New Writing prof Deborah Campbell
Now, Canadian author and literary journalist Deborah Campbell will become the latest addition to UVic’s celebrated Department of Writing. Starting July 1, 2018, Campbell will be the new assistant professor of creative nonfiction; she will also become Director of the Professional Writing program in January 2019.
“Deborah Campbell instantly makes UVic’s Department of Writing the destination in Canada for aspiring nonfiction writers who want to learn how to fuse a distinct personal voice with a depth of research and a keen social conscience—just as Deborah has done for years,” says Writing chair David Leach.
“Her on-the-ground experience as a writer and reporter for major international publications has prepared her to inspire a new generation of young journalists to investigate local and global issues amid a rapidly evolving publishing industry,” he continues. “And her immense talents as a prose stylist make her a natural fit for a department long known for mentoring several generations of Canada’s top creative writers.”
Campbell’s most recent book, A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War (Knopf Canada 2016, Picador USA 2017), won both the Writers’ Trust Hilary Weston Prize and the Hubert Evans BC Book Prize. Screen rights have been optioned by writer/director Terry George (In the Name of the Father, Hotel Rwanda). Her work has also been collected in seven separate anthologies.
“I hope to contribute my experience writing books and magazine articles from around the world, along with my knowledge of today’s fast-changing publishing climate,” says Campbell. “It’s my goal to equip the next generation with the skills and confidence to tell stories that matter.”
A world of experience
Deborah Campbell has written for Harper’s, The Guardian, The Walrus, The Economist and many other publications. Winner of three National Magazine Awards, in 2017 she also received the Freedom to Read Award, presented annually by the Writers’ Union of Canada in support of freedom of expression.
“There is so much to admire in the work of Deborah Campbell,” Writers’ Union Chair George Fetherling said at the time of her award. “Whether she is writing about war artists, international care-givers, the bafflingly complex politics of nuclear arms, or the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East, she does not shy from controversy, and is devoted to letting all voices find a place on her page.”
Campbell holds both a BFA and MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, and did undergraduate studies at institutions ranging from University of Paris-La Sorbonne and Tel Aviv University in Israel to SFU. Her teaching experience includes positions with the Creative Writing Program and the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC, as well as Vancouver’s Langara College. Interestingly, beyond being fluent in French, she also has a basic working understanding of Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic and Spanish.
“Deborah’s publications in such prominent magazines as Adbusters, Harper’s and Foreign Affairs, as well as her two powerful books about the complexities and dangers of life in the Middle East, helped to set her apart from an incredibly deep and strong field of applicants for this position,” says Leach. “She comes to the department with extensive experience as an instructor of nonfiction and journalism, and rave reviews from her past students and teaching peers.”
The latest chapter
For her part, Campbell is excited to be the latest chapter in the ever-evolving legacy of UVic’s Writing department. “I first heard about the department in the best possible way: from writers who got their start at UVic and are now writing books and winning awards,” says Campbell. “I’m delighted to be joining such talented faculty and students.”
Her work will compliment the current creative nonfiction and journalism classes taught by the likes of David Leach, Lee Henderson and the annual visiting Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction, as well as sessional instructors like Frances Backhouse, Christin Geall, Annabel Howard, Kirstie Hudson, and John Threlfall.
“While it was founded by poet Robin Skelton, almost since its inception the Department of Writing has included courses and programs focused on nonfiction writing and publishing,” notes Leach, “evolving from book publishing and newspaper reporting, through memoir, literary journalism and new digital forms of nonfiction.”
Distinguished poet and respected Department of Writing professor Tim Lilburn has become the first Canadian to receive the European Medal of Poetry and Art.
Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal and visiting poet Zhao Si
Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented with the 2017 prize by visiting Beijing poet and editor Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award committee. Following the tradition of presenting the medal in the country where the writer resides, Zhao Si traveled to Victoria to present the award at a small on-campus reception on October 10.
“The members of the council wish to emphasize the importance of your poetry for contemporary Canadian culture and the world,” noted Zhao Si in her presentation. “You belong to a group that includes some of the greatest poets of our time.”
A prominent Chinese poet, Fang has been translating Lilburn’s work since 2008, including his acclaimed 2012 collection, Assiniboia. She is also the editor of the Chinese magazine Contemporary International Poetry in Translation; their special 2016 Canadian issue included Lilburn’s work, as well as that of retired Writing professors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.
“To be part of a group that includes [former winners] like the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who would complain?” Lilburn told the Times Colonist in this September 29 interview. “It is a great honour.” Lilburn was also interviewed on October 8 on the provincial CBC Radio show North By Northwest about his award.
Created in 2015 in association with the European Union, the Homer Medal is awarded annually by a jury to outstanding creators in the worlds of literature and the visual arts. Previous winners include Turkish poet Ataol Behramoğlu, Armenian poet Gagik Davtyan, Iraqi poet Gulala Nouri and American poet Stanley H. Barkan.
The Homer Medal now joins Lilburn’s other prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Literature, the Canadian Authors Association Award and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among others. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014, Lilburn is the author of 12 books of poetry and essays, and his work has been translated into French, Chinese, Serbian, German, Spanish, and Polish.
“I can think of no more worthy a recipient for this international award,” said Writing chair David Leach at the reception.
Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts, was quick to praise Lilburn’s work. “The quality and depth of Tim’s poetry create a model of excellence in research and creative activity for faculty, and it’s through his teaching that he provides a strong example for how our artistic practice informs the learning process for our students,” she said before a group that included Writing professor emeritus Lorna Crozier, Governor General’s Award winner Arleen Paré, visiting American poet GC Waldrep, award-winning MFA alumnus and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Kevin Paul, Writing alumnus and Malahat Review editor John Barton, and a number of Writing department colleagues.
“Tim’s accomplishments and commitment to our students and community exemplify the mission of the Faculty of Fine Arts to provide the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals and students through the integration of the creation of art in a dynamic learning environment.”
After receiving his award, a clearly moved Lilburn spoke briefly but emotionally about the role of poetry in society.
“We are in a historical moment, where poets can be especially conflicted about what they do. Poetry can seem ineffectual before climate change, the rise of fascism, the need to decolonize and work toward reconciliation with First Nations,” he said. “Some poets could be tempted to set poetry aside in favour of activism, or make their poetry overtly political and turn it into pages of declaration and denunciation . . . . but we should not be so quick to abandon poetry in these extreme, dire times.”
Citing the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — who was himself influenced by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — Lilburn used the example of Neruda’s poem Let the Woodcutter Awaken, which was written while in exile from Chilean totalitarianism, to describe the impact poetry can have on people’s lives. “He learned from Rivera that if you present large, sweeping depictions of society and history, you can free people and give them a sense of power . . . . he also learned to describe in detail distinct lives, which helps to establish empathy, love, respect and a commonwealth of courtesy, civility and solidarity in his readers.”
Zhao Si presents Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal
The small room was quiet as Lilburn spoke, his voice embodying poetry’s simple power. “I believe the act of poetry-making itself . . . can have deep, social effect. In my books, poetry is not relegated to the social margins; it is not an adjunct to life and politics. It stands in the very centre of both, quietly and anonymously; in its empathy, imagination, narrative range, and commitment to the assemblage of beautiful, arresting patterns, it creates the political centre.”
In addition to receiving the Homer Medal, Lilburn has two news books coming out shortly: The Larger Conversation: Contemplation and Place, an essay collection being released in November by University of Alberta Press, and The House of Charlemagne, a book-length poem being released in Spring 2018 by the University of Regina Press.
Internationally recognized composer and School of Music Associate Professor Dániel Péter Biró can now add one of North America’s most prestigious awards to his list of honours — the Guggenheim Fellowship. And he’ll be using the one-year award worth $50,000 US to reflect on one of the most important issues of today: global migration.
2017 Guggenheim Fellow Dániel Péter Biró (UVic Photo Services)
“I am happy and honoured to be awarded this prestigious fellowship,” says Biró. “I am also extremely grateful to have time to work on the proposed composition cycle.”
Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. Scores of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and eminent scientists are past Guggenheim fellows, including Henry Kissinger, Linus Pauling and Ansel Adams.
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced this year’s recipients in its 93rd annual competition for the US and Canada on April 7. Biró is among a diverse group of 173 scholars, artists and scientists selected from a field of almost 3,000 applicants. The seventh UVic scholar to be awarded a Guggenheim, he’s the second from UVic to receive the honour in the creative arts category.
Listen to this interview with Biró on CBC Radio One’s North by Northwest show.
New work explores concepts of space and place
During the Fellowship period, Biró will work on a large-scale musical composition cycle based on Baruch Spinoza‘s philosophical work, Ethica.
“Exploring concepts of ‘space and place,’ the proposed composition will deal with questions of one’s place in the global world and how music informs and influences our perception of our place in this world,” he explains. “Looking at musical creation as an analogy to the movement of the immigrant — who discovers, remembers, forgets and rediscovers places on his voyage — the composition will investigate relationships to historical space, space of immigration and disembodied space.”
The cycle, also titled Ethica, will be scored for voices, ensemble and electronics and use text from Spinoza’s philosophical work.
The project is inspired by Biró’s time as a visiting professor in the computing and information sciences department of Netherland’s Utrecht University in 2011, where he was living not far from Spinoza’s burial site in The Hague. While one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century, Spinoza was banned from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam because of his views — which, says Biró, proved too radical for the time.
“In his philosophical treatise Ethics, Spinoza attempted to present a new type of theology, one that was autonomous from organized religion, such as that of his own Portuguese Jewish community,” he explains. “I would like to create a composition that explores historical dichotomies between religious and secular thinking from the perspective of modern-day globalized existence.”
Biró with other Fellows at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute in 2014 (photo: Ben Miller)
During the 2016/17 academic year, Biró was an artist-in-residence with UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society; in 2015, he was made a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, and was awarded a 2014 Fellowship at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and has received numerous other international prizes and commissions. All of these experiences simply inspire him to rethink and finish years of compositional research.
“My year at the Radcliffe Institute was unforgettable, as I was in dialogue with 49 other scholars for a year from every possible discipline,” he says. “The community at Harvard showed great interest and support for my work and I was grateful to experience the collegial environment.”
As a new Canadian, Biró was also honoured to become a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and was pleased that the organizers celebrated their 2015 gala featuring 600 star academics from all over Canada with two compositions—including one by himself, and one by McGill composer Philippe Leroux.
“It was a good moment for the field of contemporary music in Canada, with the Royal Society proudly acknowledging music composition as an important field of creative research for Canadian society,” Biró says. “Upon hearing my composition for bass flute and electronics, the scientists of the Royal Society had many questions about my practice of notation and use of space in my work.”
Creating complete musicians
A valued asset to both UVic and the School of Music itself, Biró hopes his Guggenheim Fellowship will enhance the School’s already very strong reputation — a nice addition to their 50th anniversary year coming up in 2017/18.
“The School of Music is proud to congratulate Dr. Biró on being awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship,” says School of Music director Christopher Butterfield. “As well as being an internationally acclaimed composer, Dániel is widely recognized for his scholarship on Jewish, Islamic and Christian chant traditions. Since coming to UVic in 2004, he has composed a body of music work notable for its aesthetic rigour and integration of elements from various chant traditions.”
Biró with School of Music students
Biró see his work in combining historical music research with modern creation, as well as contemporary music performance with music technology, as being perfectly in sync with the School’s goal to produce “complete musicians.”
This past term, for example, Biró taught music composition, contemporary music performance, the theory and analysis of 20th and 21st century music, and a graduate seminar in Jewish, Early Christian and Islamic notation practices—all of which he will be teaching again as part of the European/Canadian summer course Narratives of Memory, Migration, Xenophobia and European Identity: Intercultural Dialogues in Hungary, Germany, France and Canada. They also dovetail with his role since 2011 as the managing director of the local SALT New Music Festival and Symposium.
“My ability to conduct research in these areas gives me expertise that I can pass on to my students, allowing them a more comprehensive music education,” he says. “I am grateful to be able to integrate teaching and research at the University of Victoria and am hopeful that this Fellowship will allow the School of Music future opportunities to enhance and integrate music creation, history, technology and performance research, making it a destination for researchers from around the world.”
On cultivating obsessions
Finally, considering the Guggenheim Fellowships are often characterized as “midcareer” awards, what does he see in his immediate future?
“My last composition cycle — completed at the Radcliffe Institute — took me 13 years to complete,” Biró says. “As I tell my composition students, one has to ‘cultivate obsessions’ as a composer. I am hopeful that this next obsession might allow me to discover new universes of musical expression and compositional possibilities in the years to come.”
UVic’s past Guggenheim fellows are sculptor and Visual Arts professor emeritus Mowry Baden (2014), climatologist Andrew Weaver (2008), astrophysicist Julio Navarro (2003), English professor Anthony Edwards (1988), ocean physicist Chris Garrett (1981) and biologist Job Kuijt (1964).
The city’s visual arts scene became even more inclusive with the March 8 news that Lindsay Delaronde has been named Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence.
Visual Arts alumna Lindsay Delaronde (photo: PRZ)
Delaronde, an Iroquois Mohawk woman born and raised on the Kahnawake reservation outside of Montreal, is also a multi‐disciplinary Visual Arts MFA alumna (2010) and has been a professional practicing artist for the past five years. In 2015, she was one of three artists-in-residence at the Royal BC Museum (along with fellow Visual Arts alumnus Gareth Gaudin); her work was in the spotlight with her 2016-17 exhibit In Defiance at UVic’s Legacy Gallery, and she was also a featured speaker at UVic’s Diversity Research Forum in January 2017.
“I hope to create artworks that reflect the values of this land, which are cultivated and nurtured by the Indigenous peoples of this territory,” she says. “I see my role as a way to bring awareness to and acknowledge that reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is a process, one in which I can facilitate a collaborative approach for creating strong relationships to produce co-created art projects in Victoria.”
Delaronde began making art at a young age, practicing traditional forms of art making such as beadwork and cultural crafts. She began her journey to become a professional artist by travelling to the West Coast and obtaining her BFA at the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design.
She creates work directly related to being an Indigenous woman in contemporary mainstream society, and has worked in mediums ranging from printmaking (including silkscreen printing and photos transfers) to painting, drawing and video — all with the motivation to expand the evolution of Indigenous peoples and their histories. Her intention is to construct Indigenous perspectives within Western society to bring forth truth and reconciliation through the act of creation and visual understanding.
For her one-year term as Indigenous Artist in Residence, Delaronde will work with the community and City staff to produce a range of artistic works; she will also have an opportunity to create collaborative artwork with the City’s Artist in Residence, Luke Ramsey, who was appointed in fall 2016. She will work 20 hours per week as an independent contractor (March 2017 to March 2018) for a total fee of $42,000, funded by the City’s Art in Public Places Reserve Fund. Artwork materials, fabrication and installation may be funded by a capital project’s budget, with up to $30,000 from the Art in Public Places Reserve Fund.
Lindsay Delaronde running a corn doll workshop at Legacy Gallery in 2016 (photo: Corina Fischer)
“My goal and my purpose for the residency is really to pave the way for young emerging indigenous artists and youth, and help them understand that anything is possible,” Delaronde said in this Victoria News interview. “Everyone can stop and take a look at how art has helped them in their lives or how creativity has help someone through something or see something differently or be inspired by art . . . We all have these experiences so one thing that’s important is really helping people to personalize their own relationship to artwork and artwork in the city and what that means.”
One of six artists who applied for the position — which was open to First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists and artist teams working in any artistic discipline who reside in the Capital Region, including the Gulf Islands — submissions were evaluated based on artistic excellence, written interest, and knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritage and legacy of the area. Experience with community engagement and a desire to create artwork for and in the public realm were required.
’Namgis nation chief Rande Cook — a member of the City’s Art in Public Places Committee, and the current Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest for the department of Visual Arts — feels Delaronde is a good fit for what the City of Victoria has declared the Year of Reconciliation. “At a time where love, respect, unity and art come together, let’s all follow in the path as Lindsay paints and creates towards a brighter future,” he says. “Reconciliation is an act we as people must feel from within before we can dance unified to the heart of Mother Earth.”
Delaronde speaking at the 2017 Diversity Research Forum
Delaronde also recently completed her second Master’s degree at UVic, in Indigenous Communities Counselling Psychology. As she recounted in this Focus magazine interview, having experienced domestic violence and trauma in her youth, Delaronde has always turned to art-making for solace; realizing how an art practice helped her in her own healing, she has been finding points of cohesion. “As time went on, I was really interested in narrative therapy, person-centred therapy . . . We don’t heal in isolation. Our worldview is about coming together and doing ceremonies so we could be visible; we could be seen. We could be part of community. The individual healing is the group healing—one is the other.”
She is already planning a multidisciplinary performative piece, titled A CHoRD, to take place at Victoria’s Legislature on June 25, 2017. Co-created with local choreographer Monique Salez to enact a new accord reflecting the potential for a rallying point between cultures, politics, ages, and herstories, A CHoRD will “appropriate the colonial legislative system to dismantle existing hypocrisies and injustices while proposing new partnerships with an eye toward the potential for a contemporary and inclusive recreation where women’s voices, bodies and politics are reclaimed.”
Street art performance by Lindsay Delaronde (photo: Michael Tessel)
Want to get involved? Performers and activated audience members are needed, and you can find out more at an informational meet & greet, 3 to 5pm Sunday, March 19, at Raino Dance, 715 Yates (3rd floor).
You can also see footage of Delaronde’s 2015 Unceded Voices interactive street art performance piece here. “I dressed Iroquois regalia approaching local Montrealers and asking if they knew what First Nations territory they were on?” she said at the time. “What do they know of Kahnawake and Mohawk people? Interesting and upsetting responses in relation the lack of knowledge people have. So I did an acknowledgment of territory and educated them on who we are as Onkwehonwe people.”
We’ll be excited to see the impact — both immediate and long-term — this extraordinary Fine Arts graduate has on Victoria during her year of residency.
Carolyn Butler Palmer with one of Ellen Neel’s masks in the Legacy Gallery exhibit
The newest exhibit at UVic’s Legacy Gallery Downtown seeks to correct gendered colonial myths with works by Ellen Neel, a woman carver of the Northwest Coast.
Ellen Newman Neel (Kwagiulth, Kwickwasutaineuk and ‘Namgis) is often described as the first Northwest Coast woman carver. A prolific artist, she was only 49 years old when she passed away in the 1960s. But her defiance of gender barriers and federal law carries deep resonance for all Canadians to this day—and now within the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s calls to action—and her legendary impact and artistic legacies live on in the work of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The first exhibition of Neel’s work in more than 50 years is showing at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery Downtown until April 1.
Exhibit co-curator and Art History and Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler Palmer was assisted throughout the process by two advising curators, David A. Neel (Neel’s grandson and the son of David Lyle Neel) and Lou-ann Ika’wega Neel (her granddaughter and the daughter of Neel’s son Ted). The exhibit includes artwork from six generations of the Neel family, including David’s two children.
The Globe and Mail recently featured a story on Neel and the exhibit in its national arts section. Lou-ann was interviewed by The Globe. She said that it’s “‘really a colonial idea that our women didn’t carve. Our women have always carved. I’ve already heard a few people say, “Well, you know, our grandmother was also a carver.” Good, I want to hear about her. Let’s talk about her, too. Because all of our communities need these role models to come from the last couple of generations and encourage our young girls and women to pursue the arts, too.’”
The exhibit was also covered in these articles by both the Times Colonist and Oak Bay News.
Mary Jo Hughes (left) and Butler Palmer at the exhibit opening (Photo: Corina Fischer)
Born in Alert Bay in 1916, Neel learned during the 1920s to carve from her grandfather—the eminent master carver Yakuglas/Charlie James—at a time when the Indigenous art of carving was banned in Canada under the Indian Act. She then launched her artistic career in the 1940s during the potlatch prohibition when carving was rare and the idea of a woman carver was even rarer still.
Butler Palmer, also UVic’s Williams Legacy Chair, worked for 15 years on research in support of the exhibit at UVic’s downtown public art gallery and a book project. “Ellen Neel was a remarkable woman,” she says. “Seven decades before the TRC published its findings, Neel graciously and very publically supported the rights of Indigenous people, to fish, to fair wages, to an education and to make art. Neel was also an important role model and mentor for young artists such as Bill Reid, Art Thompson and Robert Davidson. It is hard to imagine the Northwest Coast art world today without the foundation laid by Neel in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.”
Director of UVic Legacy Art Galleries Mary Jo Hughes adds, “We are honoured to be able to facilitate this exhibition and be able to mobilize the important research by Dr. Butler Palmer and the Neel family. This project brings to public notice Ellen Neel who, perhaps unbeknownst to many of our gallery visitors, played such a pivotal role in the art of the northwest.”
Ellen Neel’s family attending the exhibit’s opening (Photo: Corina Fischer)
In 1947, with the ban still in place, Neel established her own carving business. She opened a retail outlet in Stanley Park, The Totem Arts Shop, in 1951 where she taught her children to make art. They carved hundreds of items destined for the tourist market. She also produced monumental and miniature memorial poles, including The Wonderbird Pole of 1953 for White Spot Restaurants, as well as an extensive collection including masks, hand puppets, textiles, jewelry and totemware ceramics.
Neel designed the famous Totemland Pole too, which was a commission from a tourism organization with hundreds of the miniature poles gifted to visiting dignitaries, as well as other people beyond BC including Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn.
As she told a UBC audience during a keynote address in 1948: “Were it not for the interest created by the tourist trade, the universities and the museums, we would no longer have any of our people capable of producing this art. I have strived in all my work, to retain the authentic, but I find it difficult to obtain a portion of the price necessary to do a really fine piece of work. Only when there is an adequate response to efforts to retain the best of our art will it be possible to train the younger generation to appreciate their own cultural achievements.”
—Written by Tara Sharpe. This piece originally ran in UVic’s Ring newspaper